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Veterans History Project

Charles Ray Livermont, Chief Warrant Officer II, US Army, 1966 – 1968

 

Larry Nelson

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Charles Ray Livermont (Ray) was a twenty year old kid who had graduated high school and had completed some college at South Dakota State University. One of the courses he enrolled in was the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). After a year and a half of college, he stopped at the US Army recruiter's office and took the tests and inquired about flying in the Army. He almost maxxed the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) with a score of 99. With that score, he could pick any field there was. He liked the aspect of becoming a pilot!

After the physical and other preparations, he soon boarded a Greyhound bus and was headed to Fort Polk, LA. With a starting point in South Dakota, the ride was a long one.

On arrival in February 1966, he was faced with the usual things... meeting the Drill Sergeant, learning new words: barracks, chow hall, gear and stuff. The Drill Sgt was SGT Short. Basic training went pretty well for Ray. He did recall that he liked the Pugil Stick piece. This event pitted man against man each wearing protective helmets and vest (sorta). The sticks were about four feet long and had a rounded pad on each end. The soldiers would go mano-a-mano, trying to knock the other down. One occasion called for anyone who thought they could, would take on the Drill SGT. Ray did both! He fought the Drill SGT and won!

Ray was a squad leader and helped others along the way. That excused him from having to do KP assignments. His ROTC training came into play here as well. He also scored expert on the rifle range. After eight weeks, graduation day came. It was a proud moment! The new soldiers got to go home for a short time and had to return to their next place of training.

In Ray's case, this would be Fort Wolters, TX. This place was near Mineral Springs, TX. It was called Camp Wolters for WWII training. Here, he and his peers would go through the early phases of flight training including ground school and some hands-on flying helicopters. The five month training would prepare him for the next phase which was at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Fort Rucker was and is the helicopter pilot training location for the US Army. He was stationed here for four months of real training. The men knew what the next destination was. The focus is high and tense. They learned to read maps very well, learned to perform med-evacs, re-supply, dust offs, gun-ship work plus, some maintenance on the choppers.

In all, Ray was in Basic training two months; in flight school nine months and two sets of leave for being home, over a year had passed. Ray was on orders to depart from San Francisco. Ultimately, he and others landed and joined up with Company A, 4th Aviation Battalion, Fourth Infantry Division. Their base was Dak To, Viet Nam. The colorful logo on the side of the helicopters was a circular disk. In the background was a UH-I (Huey) helicopter image. Large and in front was a Jack of Diamonds and an Ace of Spades for the Black Jacks ...they were the Gamblers.

After a couple of days getting used to the situation, it was time to fly missions. There were usually 26 helicopters fully mission capable in Ray's unit. The Huey was manned with a pilot, a co-pilot, a door gunner, a crew chief, and an analyst for the snoopy missions.

Ray got plenty of experience. The more he flew the chopper, the better pilot he became. There were daily briefings by the intelligence personnel and by the operations staff. They knew where to expect troop build-ups and what to expect from the terrain.

After a few months, his aircraft was equipped with a "people sniffer". It was put on the front cowling of the Huey. By flying the helicopter at treetop elevation, the machine could pick up ammonia gasses from people and their waste products. It was a way of charting characteristics of the enemy such as their number and direction of travel. There would be one person aboard who was trained to make inferences from the data and that information would be sent back by radio to the command and control at the forward operating base. Large groups were detected and after reported, heavy bombardment would be coming in on their location.

In early December 1967, Ray and his co-pilot,1LT Allen, were briefed on a particular mission. Ray was asked to volunteer for a very risky mission. His co-pilot was asked the same. Crew members, three in all, were also given the chance to sit this one out, but to a man, each stepped up. Part of the situation was that this was TET season and allied forces should expect much more enemy activity. The "people sniffer" would be operational and the enemy could be detected. As they lifted off, the co-pilot told Ray that he would not be coming back from this task. He asked Ray to contact his wife and daughter with the news of his demise.

The flight first went to the operations people at Pleiku Base. There, the men were briefed on additional hazards. They were asked to draw enemy fire if they could. The men returned to their Huey and went to work. While flying at low level and with the detector functioning, Ray saw an opening in the tree line. When they entered the small area, enemy gunfire broke out. They were hit with heavy weaponry. The chopper was struck over eighty times. Crewmen were shot as well as the co-pilot. The co-pilot's injuries were mortal. When he succumbed, his body leaned forward and left coming to rest on the cyclic control arm which controls much of the aircraft. Ray had been shot in the right hand, left wrist and left knee. As he fought to regain control of the Huey, the unit crashed into a tree and fell to the ground in a huge ball of flame. All crew but Ray were Killed In Action.

Ray was strapped into his seat. The seat was catapulted through the plexiglass windscreen and roof of the bird. He was some 70 feet from the wreckage having landed into a different tree. Ray was severely injured and could have bled to death where he was. Enemy soldiers came to the site to look around. When they left, Ray fell to the ground, injuring his back, neck, left jaw and mouth area. After some hours, a search and rescue group was sent out to the last known coordinates.

They ultimately found Ray and med-evacked him to the rear. Ray was unconscious now. He didn't know that he was sent to several different care facilities while he was "out of it". The Army knew that the best place for him to recover would be a spot closest to his home area of South Dakota. He went to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver.

A friend from Ray's youth was living in Wyoming and learned of Ray's situation. The friend made his way to where Ray was and stayed with him until he awoke. Ray went through quite a bit of recovery to fight the amnesia and heal the injuries. He was medically discharged from the US Army. He returned to his father's ranch near Kadoka, South Dakota.

Ray earned the Meritorious Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Vietnamese Distinguished Service Cross, the Viet Nam Campaign Medal, the Viet Nam Combat Ribbon, the Army Expeditionary Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. He earned the Expert level of rifle shooter. He is employed at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cheyenne, WY.

Chief Warrant Officer II Ray Livermont, you are a many of astounding courage and grit! Thank you so much for your service!

 

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